Friday News Review

Coalition could field candidates at the next election

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are to change the law to allow them to put up joint candidates using a single emblem on the ballot paper, Labour claimed on the eve of the Lib Dem conference in Sheffield. The Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper pushed legal changes through the Commons this week that will allow two parties to field a candidate under a single emblem for mayoral elections. He said he intended to introduce a similar system for the next general election, probably by using a bill introducing individual voter registration. Harper said: “It is the government’s intention to fix it ahead of the general election so that those candidates who stand for more than one political party will be happy.” Chris Bryant, the shadow constititutional affairs minister, said: “Perhaps the Conservative and Liberal Democrats should merge their logos. They could have a bird in a tree. I would suggest a dodo.” Coalition sources maintained the changes to the law were not a contingency plan designed to pave the way for a joint Tory-Lib Dem ticket. Instead they said the change was designed to help the Labour and Co-operative party put up a single candidate. But any sign of plans for a longer-term deal will be viewed with intense suspicion by Lib Dem members. A strategy motion from the executive for the party’s conference in Sheffield says it must do more to assert its independence. – the Guardian

Tory and Lib Dem MPs will be able to stand as joint Coalition candidates at the next election under controversial plans privately put in motion this week. Ministers are to change the law to allow candidates standing for two parties at the same time to put a joint emblem on the ballot paper. That paves the way for an electoral pact between the Coalition partners at the next election – a controversial move that would anger the grassroots supporters of both parties. The door has been opened to Tory and Lib Dems agreeing local peace pacts with one candidate representing them both – perhaps under a logo combining the yellow Liberal Democrat bird with the Tory oak tree. It opens the door to Tory and Lib Dems agreeing local peace pacts with one candidate representing them both – perhaps under a logo combining the yellow Liberal Democrat bird with the Tory oak tree. At the moment, a candidate standing for more than one party cannot put either party’s logo on the ballot paper – an anomaly that discriminates against a coalition pact. But earlier this week the Government quietly pushed through a change in the law which allows those who stand for mayor or in local council elections to use a Coalition logo. Candidates for mayoral or local council elections can use a Coalition logo. Constitutional Affairs Minister Mark Harper wants the same rules for the general election. Now Constitutional Affairs Minister Mark Harper has revealed that he will introduce primary legislation in the Commons to push through the same rules for the general election – in time for the next nationwide poll in 2015. – Daily Mail

Clegg on the offensive

Nick Clegg has told his anxious party to “hold its nerve” as he trumpeted a long list of government policies he claimed the Conservatives would not have brought in unless they were in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Speaking exclusively to The Independent on the eve of a potentially difficult Liberal Democrat spring conference in Sheffield this weekend, Mr Clegg said: “We are in this for the long haul. We are going to keep our nerve. We are not going to flinch. We were right to go into government. We are doing the right things in government.” Rehearsing his speech to the conference on Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister told his party: “Keep your head up high. Be proud of what we are doing. Don’t be cowed by what people are saying about us. Stick to the course.” The Liberal Democrat leader signalled a new phase in the Coalition in which he and Mr Cameron will not always use the same language to promote the Government’s policies, allowing the two parties to explain to their activists and the public that they are implementing their own values. He revealed that he told Mr Cameron he was talking “complete bilge” as he sat next to him at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, after he defended the current first-past-the-post system. Mr Clegg, who supports a switch to the alternative vote, whispered his jibe when Mr Cameron sat down. “We were very good humoured about it. We mutter to each other. We were just joking. We disagree on this one,” he said. In a significant change, Mr Clegg bowed to pressure from his own party to reassert its separate identity amid growing fears it is taking more of the pain from the spending cuts than the Tories. – the Independent

Nick Clegg brings the Liberal Democrats to Sheffield with scars evident from life in Government. In an exclusive interview, Jonathan Reed speaks to the Liberal Democrat leader. A solitary chocolate digestive sits on the coffee table in Nick Clegg’s office – a sign, perhaps, of the age of austerity. Despite his Liberal Democrat party suffering the embarrassment of trailing in sixth place in the Barnsley Central by-election a week ago, the Deputy Prime Minister is relaxed. After his offer of the biscuit is declined, he snaps it up himself and tucks in with relish, more eager to look ahead to the party’s spring conference this weekend than lingering on a post-mortem of last week. Mr Clegg’s strongest criticism is saved for Labour politicians in Sheffield, who have accused him of failing to stand up for the city and made life hostile for him. “I think they are so infantile,” he said. “It’s the worst kind of bullying, carping, sneering, infantile politics, straight out of the playground. They’ve got no ideas themselves, no answers, no apologies, no responsibility.” He angrily rejects their claims he has been absent from the city – saying he is “assiduously keeping up” with constituency duties – and contradicts the picture painted by Labour that he is persona non grata. “It simply doesn’t feel like it when I’m in Sheffield,” he said. “Sure there are people – of course there are people – who are unhappy about this decision or that decision. I don’t hide away, that’s why I had a public meeting in the centre of Sheffield the other day.” – Yorkshire Post

Sheffield protects itself against Clegg

Police are spending an estimated £2m to protect this weekend’s Liberal Democrat conference, with measures including a 2.5m high steel and concrete fence to deter up to 10,000 protesters. A thousand officers will be on duty or standby from Friday until Sunday to shield the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, in his own city from anger over public spending cuts and his party’s U-turn on student fees. Initial glee at a successful bid two years ago to host the spring conference of 3,000 Lib Dem delegates has turned to concern in Sheffield at the cost both to the public purse and in lost business. Although only Barclays bank in the city centre has so far decided to shut on Saturday, shoppers and visitors are expected to stay away through fear of violence. The scale of temporary building work around the City Hall, where the conference is to be held, has startled local people. But Superintendent Martin Scothern said the barrier was the most sensible way to cope with all possibilities. Sheffield had been hoping for a £2.5m boost to its economy from the biggest spring gathering the Lib Dems have held. Income is still expected from hotel stays and dining – with a possible fillip from overnighting and hungry protesters – but shops predict a slump in takings. – the Guardian

Who will go first? Andrew or William?

A former ambassador last night called for Prince Andrew to be sacked as trade envoy because he was doing ‘serious damage’ to British interests. Stephen Day, who headed the Foreign Office’s Middle East section, has written to three government departments demanding that Andrew is stripped of his role. As pressure continued to mount on the Duke of York, Mr Day also revealed that the prince had a ‘worrying’ private meeting with Libyan tyrant Colonel Gaddafi three years ago. It took place at the home of Sakher al-Materi, the son-in-law of the ousted president of Tunisia – a man Mr Day described as ‘the worst of all the crooks in the presidential family’. In his letter, he described the Duke’s activities as ‘embarrassing’. He said he was the ‘worst person’ to send to countries like Qatar, where apparently he is seen as ‘crass’. Mr Day worked as an emissary for the Prince of Wales in the 1980s as well as being ambassador to Qatar and Tunisia. He wrote to Foreign Secretary William Hague, Business Secretary Vince Cable and the Prime Minister’s foreign affairs advisor to express his concerns. His letter said: ‘The duke’s activities are doing such serious damage to the Royal Family itself and to Britain’s political, diplomatic and commercial interests that an entirely new role should be found for him as soon as possible.’ Mr Day, who left the diplomatic service in 1993, said it was ‘insulting’ to ambassadors to wheel the Duke in to lead trade negotiations, and it gave the impression Britain was happy to work with ‘dodgy fixers and politicians’. – Daily Mail

Is it true that William Hague has lost the stomach for politics and is edging towards the exit? I have no idea, but certainly the rumour that has dogged the foreign secretary around Westminster and Whitehall all week is that he “lost his mojo” and isn’t looking very hard to find it again. True or false, the anatomy of a rumour is always interesting. The Guardian’s Nick Watt set it out very fairly here. After Hague’s drubbing over the SAS mishap in the Libyan desert, the former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell expressed doubts on Monday’s BBC Newsnight about “just how enthusiastic he is about this business”. It made unexpectedly large waves, which culminated in yesterday’s Cameron-Miliband splash at PMQs. “No smoke without fire” is a handy cliche, though sometimes used to justify all sorts of villainy. Hague’s world-weary on-camera remarks about shouldering his heavy burdens “through an extended period of time” and ministerial embarrassment over the SAS mishap (on top of all the others) were reinforced by No 10’s advice to reporters. One of my chums in the pub reported a dinner conversation on Saturday with the kind of person who should know. Yes, William is tired and not on top of things. Yes, the junior ministers and officials are both disappointed and restless. We’ll either find out or forget quickly enough. I’d hate to think of Hague, not my cup of tea but a highly intelligent public official (I watched his notorious party conference debut at 16, the brat), being driven out by media intrusion, private man that he is. I sense something else going on. But what? Politics is a rough old trade, and once they lose the taste for it only duty or masochism keeps them going. – the Guardian

Even Ed Balls is feeling the ‘pinch’

Ed Balls feels the pinch yesterday… from a cheeky pensioner. The shadow chancellor was taken aback as he appeared to be “goosed” on a visit to an old folks’ club. But he needn’t have worried – May Wilson, 83, was just trying to attract his attention to see if he’d like a piece of cake with his cuppa. An onlooker said: “Poor Ed seemed more than a little surprised by her rather hands-on approach. “But it was all entirely innocent. She only wanted to know if he fancied a slice…” Smiling Mr Balls graciously accepted the cake before giving May a thank you kiss at Nelson Hall community centre in Edinburgh. Earlier he slammed the Tories’ “risky” approach to the economy, saying they were threatening jobs and families. He added: “They’re cutting too hard, too fast and people are feeling the squeeze.” Especially when old May’s around, eh, Ed? – Daily Mirror

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